Some theories in education are global, spanning across cultures. Some theories are even universal, spanning across cultures and time. Linking parent’s wealth to children’s higher achievement in school is neither global, nor universal. Much research including the Coleman Report (1966) showed a higher correlation between pre-school factors– factors that the school has no control over, such as wealth– than school quality factors. This research pointed to wealth as an indicator of higher achievement. This research is still proven valid, but for the United States and other countries with similar economic and educational maturity.
Developing nations differ from long-time industrialized nations in regards to student achievement for two reasons: 1.) scarcity creates a competitive environment and 2.) school attainment has a direct link to better employment. School enrollment is becoming close to universal in many parts of the world, but we are not at universal basic education yet. When a resource is scarce, it is more valued. Placement in schools is scarce and therefore children know that they will have to compete, to do their absolute best, to earn a spot.
These spots are very important for the second reason. The scarcity of education also makes it more highly rewarded. Students see an opportunity to move up the social ladder through schooling. Also, they see political leaders that came from poor backgrounds, and the government sector is the largest employer in the third world. They see that if they obtain an education, they too can move up. This direct link is not as evident in industrialized countries where the private sector is the biggest labor market and does not have strict education requirements.
The challenge of helping students in developing countries reach their potential lies in school effectiveness. Stay tuned for factors that affect school quality.